(University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA - Paced by nine service aces, Montana earned its first sweep of the season on Thursday night, beating Eastern Washington in three dominant sets (25-22, 25-15, 25-11).
The Grizzlies took control of the match early and never loosened up, trailing for just a single point (2-1 in Set 3) the entire night. Montana led by at least six points in all three sets, and the 14-point victory margin in Set 2, was Montana's largest lead of the season.
"I'm really proud of the team," third-year head coach Allison Lawrence said. "We had a lot of people step up in moments and really take care of their jobs, and I thought we played physical and loose."
The individual highlight, though, came from Elsa Godwin's five service aces. Three of them came in the third set, with the final two being icing on the cake, as Montana finished the night on a 7-0 run with Godwin at the service line.
"The crowd was great, and the team's energy was great, and what's nice about serving is it's totally in your control," Godwin said. "I just built off the confidence that the team was building."
Over the past two matches (six sets), Godwin has eight service aces. She leads the Big Sky during conference play in the category, and her five aces on Thursday were the most by a Big Sky athlete in any three-set match this season.
While Godwin stole the show from the service line, it was an area that Lawrence felt allowed the Grizzlies to set the tone and assert themselves. Montana had nine aces overall, with five different players serving one up.
Many of them came at key times, too.
Freshman middle blocker Kelly Horning started the night at the service line and gave the Griz a 1-0 lead with an ace. A few points later, it was Missy Huddleston's turn, giving Montana a 4-1 advantage that would quickly turn to 8-2.
The Eagles never led in the set, but would fight back to force a 13-13 tie and get within a single point three other times. That's when Montana dialed up another key ace, turning a 19-18 advantage into a 22-18 lead following an Isabelle Garrido ace right after the freshman checked in for the first time.
Godwin would have two aces in the second set, the first giving Montana a 4-1 advantage as the Grizzlies again jumped out to an early lead (9-4). The second finished it off, as Montana closed the set on a 9-3 run, including four points in a row with Godwin serving.
The two teams were tied at 3-3 in the third set, but that wouldn't last long. Godwin had an ace during a 4-0 run to put Montana on top, 7-3, which would quickly jump to 15-7 following Kelsey Nestegard's first career ace. Eastern Washington was never a threat in the final set, hitting a negative percentage and allowing Montana to close on a 7-0 run.
"Serving is something we've been talking about for the last couple of weeks, and really trying to change our mentality from the service line," Lawrence said. "We weren't just serving the ball in, but we were serving some really tough serves, which made Eastern a little bit more predictable in what they were doing."
Another big key to Montana's victory was the Grizzlies' ability to take control of the match early. Too many times this season, they have fallen behind early which has taken them out of their game and rhythm. On Thursday, by the time the Grizzlies reached double digits in each set, they were already doubling up the Eagles.
"I hope our team saw that we have control over how we start each match," Lawrence said. "We can be aggressive and assert ourselves, which allows us to relax and have the momentum."
Montana led by at least five for the final 12 points of Set 2 and final 22 points of Set 3.
"This match definitely gave us a lot of confidence," Godwin said. "The fact that it's homecoming, there are a lot of people in town, and it's hard not to be pumped for the game tomorrow."
(on taking early leads in each set)
"We played loose and we played physical, and we played relaxed. It was nice to see us have enough confidence to be resilient and really hungry, but also be relaxed. Even when a point didn't go our way, we were able to reset and respond on the next point."
(on a strong team effort from the service line)
"Kelsey (Nestegard) came in and got an ace, and then held her serve again. She served them into a tough situation and did an amazing job. I put Izzy (Garrido) in during the first set and she got an ace right away. It was those moments, for me, where I felt like this was our match. Serving was in our control, which gave us a lot of confidence."
Montana will have a quick turnaround, facing Idaho on Friday night. The match will be played at 6 p.m., allowing fans to go from the volleyball match to the university's homecoming pep rally and bonfire on campus beginning at 8 p.m. All UM alumni can get in to the match for free, as well as all fans who show their football ticket for Saturday's game vs. Idaho State.
Idaho suffered its first loss of the conference season on Thursday night, falling in four sets at Montana State.